Tag Archives: boris-johnson

A tale of three newspapers

I’m on the night shift tonight – got to file an article for Comment is Free at 7am. The big picture is still unclear at the mo so I thought I’d offer my words of wisdom about the London election.

I’ve spent the past month tracking mentions of Boris, Ken and Paddick on Twitter. What I witnessed, particularly today, was about 80% of twitterers mentioning Boris expressing utter disbelief at the prospect of Three Jobs Boz getting the Mayoralty, 5% were petulant remarks from True Blues accusing anyone who fails to immediately see how wonderful he is as being “class warriors” and “inverted snobs” and 15% echoing Charlie Brooker’s article a couple of weeks ago, namely “OMFG LOOK AT HIS FUNNEEE HAIR LOL!!!! BORRIS IS A LEGERND!!!!” I’m afraid to say that seeing the 100th one of these messages today, I started to go a bit funny in the head.

The general impression seems to be that turnout in London is high. Iain Dale seems to think it is limited to the Outer London donut, but my experience from telling in an uber urban Islington ward today is that it is high there too. At 6pm we were being told that turnout there was already hitting 50%.

What I found most revealing today was looking at the coverage of the London elections in London’s free newspapers. For those who don’t know, London now has three of the things: the Metro which is distributed on the tube in the morning and London Lite and thelondonpaper which is handed out in the late afternoon/evening. The Metro and London Lite are both Associated Newspapers, who also publish the Mail and the Evening Standard. thelondonpaper is News International who also publish the Sun and the Times.

The Evening Standard has of course been running a vendetta against Ken Livingstone and not surprisingly called on its readers to vote for Bozza in a leader today. But what of the Metro and London Lite? They have very different demographics: while the Standard is the paper for the middle aged, middle class, stockbroker, its sister papers are for the hoi polloi.

thelondonpaper has had extensive coverage of the Mayoral elections over the last three days. Today’s paper consists of the following:

  • Front page: headline “IT’S NOT TOO LATE”. front page editorial encouraging people to vote.
  • Page 2: pics of the candidates
  • Pages 6-7: general coverage
  • Pages 8-9: Bozza and Ken’s style analysed, with tips on how to get their respective looks

By contrast, this is the coverage of today’s London Lite:

  • Front page: headline “Ken closes in on Boris”
  • Pages 6-7: general coverage.

And the Metro? The paper with the widest circulation by a factor of more than two?

  • Front page: nothing. nada.
  • Page 23: half a page of jokey coverage.
  • Er…
  • …that’s it?

It’s quite clear that the Associated Press were trying their best to depress turnout. So full marks to thelondonpaper, which has easily had the best and most balanced coverage. The fact that News International are angling for the license to distribute a morning paper on the tube is, I’m sure, a complete coincidence.

Boris is punk’d

Yesterday, I kept getting twitter messages about “Boris and Torche on tour.” Naturally, I assumed this meant that in order to avoid the homophobic brush, Mr Johnson had been going round Soho with members of the Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality (which appears to have folded given that I can’t find any evidence of their existence other than an archive). However, it turns out to be a couple of punk bands. Who knew?

Does your Mayoral candidate pass the 7/7 test?

Wondering which way to vote in May’s London Mayoral election? Allow me to suggest this simple test:

Pick a candidate and try and imagine what they would be like handling a crisis such as 7/7.

Actually, you don’t need to do that with Livingstone. Love him or hate him, he’s already done this:

Brian Paddick? Well, again, this isn’t a hypothetical as he was the Deputy Metropolitan Police Chief at the time:

Boris Johnson? Does the thought make you want to laugh or cry?

Harsh test though this may be, I think it’s a valid one.

Beware Livingstone supporters claiming you have no choice

Ken Livingstone supporters moving into the clothes peg business. Remember Polly Toynbee’s exhortation in the run up to the general election that people should vote Labour not because they were any good but because the Tories were worse? Well, it seems that Livingstone supporters have started a similar tactic. Seumus Milne, acknowledging that there is “a strong left critique of Livingstone,” nonetheless insists that “the choice [between Livingstone and Johnson] could hardly be starker. No other candidate is in with a shout.” Meanwhile, a bunch of Labour MPs have written a letter to the Guardian demanding that “the real issues in the London mayoral election should be Ken Livingstone’s record after eight years in office” only to immediately add that “Boris Johnson would abolish the 50% affordable housing policy. He opposed the minimum wage, backed section 28 and has called for big cuts to London’s transport and policing budgets. The choice could not be clearer.”

The Labour practice of talking up the Tories in order to shut down debate (and vice versa) is a time honoured tradition, and one the Lib Dems in turn practice themselves all the time. Polly at least had a point; under first past the post voting against the party you hate is more relevant than voting for the party you like. But the Mayoral election will not be conducted under first past the post but the supplementary vote (SV) system.

SV is by no means perfect – unlike AV you still have to take tactical factors into consideration when casting your first preference. But it does broaden the range out to at least the top three. What then becomes important is which candidates enjoy the broadest consensus. Livingstone has always done well out of a broad coalition of lefties, liberals and greens – these are votes Johnson must attract to actually win. Can he? I’m doubtful, and I suspect he can only lose ground over the next couple of months. On this basis it is looking less and less likely that Johnson can win, even if he ends up in the top two.

By contrast, it is not beyond the realms of possibility at all that if Paddick could overtake him. He was very unlucky to have his candidature announced while the leadership election was getting under way which didn’t make for the best of starts. But his relaunch this month has been very successful and he has a broader appeal than the standard Lib Dem candidate.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the only two people who can win this race are not Livingstone and Johnson but Livingstone and Paddick. The fact that Livingstone supporters seek to present the shock haired loon as some kind of looming phantom menace suggests they fear this is true themselves.

Boris4London? Have I got news for you

On 24dash.com:

A gaffe from Tory mayoral candidate Boris Johnson reduced Labour MPs to helpless laughter and prompted protests in the Commons.

It was triggered after Mr Efford (Eltham) noted archly that Mr Johnson had made scant contribution to the debate.

“The candidate for the mayoral seat for the Conservative Party doesn’t seem to have a view on any of this,” he remarked.

Rising swiftly, Mr Johnson observed: “Anything that encourages more cooperation and consultation between the mayor and the boroughs is a good thing.”

Heckled by Mr Efford that he didn’t know what was being discussed, he added: “I think everybody in this House wants to see a mayoralty that responds to the wishes of local communities and works with the boroughs and not against them in imposing planning decisions that go against the wishes of locally elected politicians.”

Local Government Minister John Healey riposted: “Welcome to the debate. We missed your contribution and your presence in previous sections.

“Can I also say you are speaking in fact to the next group of amendments – we are talking about housing strategy and health, but we will come on to planning next.”

It’s all fun and games, but it doesn’t exactly indicate that Johnson is really serious about the job, does it?

Get tough on the fear of crime

One of the things that most irritated me about the Orange Book a few years ago was David Laws hectoring the Lib Dems for not doing enough to acknowledge how the fear of crime affects people’s daily lives (I paraphrase as I don’t have the book in front of me right now). Boris Johnson made a similar comment during the launch for his bid for London Mayor today and last week the Observer wrote:

The state cannot order civil society back into being, but it can facilitate the process. A first step is to recognise fear of crime is not irrational just because recorded crime is down. It is a reasonable response by a public feeling remote from the police.

Nonsense. Well, half nonsense. Because it is certainly true that the fear of crime is a debilitating thing, and that it needs to be dealt with. But we will only be able to get a grip on it once we recognise that it is indeed irrational, and stop pretending otherwise.

If the fear of something is greatly out of proportion to the possibility that it might happen, then that fear is irrational, full stop. All parties have been going on about the semi-mythical “bobbies on the beat” for decades, yet it is simply impossible to have a policeman on every street corner, at all times. The level at which a visible police force would start to ‘reassure’ the public would be simply unattainable. Spending a fortune on recruiting, training and retaining policemen who will then be given nothing more to do than walk around to ‘reassure’ people would be simply silly.

It simply isn’t good enough for parties and journalists to persist with this line. We don’t need the police to reclaim the streets, as the Observer suggests, but the public to. How we tackle such a seemingly intractable notion is the big question, but by asking it we might just find the answer.

One thing we, as a society, might try is to reverse the trend towards viewing anti-social behaviour as criminality. 12 years ago, we had more crime, but no-one knew what anti-social behaviour was. One of New Labour’s most pernicious legacies has been to convince people that naughtiness, rowdiness and petty vandalism is something the police should handle when in the past it was something the community itself sorted out. The more we concentrate on anti-social behaviour, the worse it seems. We can never win the war on anti-social behaviour because it is so mutable: unless all young people transform into angels en masse, there will always be someone doing something that upsets someone.

Worse, it seems to have created an antagonism towards the police that eclipses even the attitude when I was a teenager. I remember my sixth form being chased down Bromley High Street by coppers with dogs simply because the landlord at a pub we had paid to hold a party at smelt a spliff. That was a moronic over-reaction by the boys in blue. Now they are charged with enforcing curfews on any kid who doesn’t look like they have a place to go. You couldn’t invent a better system for alienating young people from authority if you tried.

I’m sure that round the edges there are things that governments could do to sort this unholy mess out, but ultimately it is up to all of us to actually turn this situation around. In my view, we need to develop a mass participation consciousness-raising campaign such as Full Stop or Make Poverty History, to persuade people that they are the agents of their own destiny, that they need to take responsibility over their own children and that they need to rebuild the adult solidarity. Such a campaign, if it could be made a success, would be one of the most liberating mass movements in our history. As such, it would inevitably come up against a political and cultural establishment – politicians, the police and of course the tabloid press which would all be emasculated by it.

How could we achieve such a thing? Haven’t the foggiest, sorry. Answers on a postcard please. All I know is that the alternative – to continue indulging the fear of crime – leads to a vicious circle of self-destructive madness.

In the meantime, I suggest we can make a start by doing things such as getting former policemen who admit to finding the concept of anarchism appealing elected as London Mayor. Just an idea.

London politics in primary colours?

I find it fascinating that Tories appear to have leapt on this speculation that Labour might be attempting to rig the Conservative primary for London Mayor.

If it is true, then Labour is full of even more morons than I thought. You would have thought they learnt from their attempts to stitch up the Today programme Christmas poll in 1996. There is simply no way they could organise a mass entryist campaign without having to show their hand. There’d have to be a paper trail, an email trail… you know the drill.

And they’d have to be pretty sure they were able to get tens and tens of thousands of people to do it, each one willing to cough up £1.50. Ten thousand Labour supporters registering would make the Conservative Party £15k, and Labour would probably need more than that to assail Boris. Just how much cash is Labour planning to plough into the Tories’ coffers in the name of a dodgy stitch up that might not even work anyway?

In fact, Labour would have to be beyond stupid to try such a thing, notwithstanding the actions of a few mavericks (I note that this particular maverick is one “John Harris” – presumably the journalist who is at best semi-detached from the Labour Party). I simply can’t believe it.

Scratch beneath the surface though, and what are the underlying messages of this story? Firstly, Labour is terrified of Boris Johnson and want to avoid a fair fight at all costs. Secondly, the Conservatives are running a primary that any Londoner can take part in. Thirdly, all the other candidates in the primary are no hopers. In short, all the messages in this story are unequivocally good news for the Tories, and Boris Johnson in particular.

And of course, accusations about grand conspiracies of which there is no evidence whatsoever for is something that at least one Conservative MP seems to specialise in (I could of course mention Lord Rothermere and the Elder Protocols of Zion at this point and talk about ignoble Tory traditions, but I suspect that would upset some sensitive souls).

Two final points: I’m glad to see that the primary is being run by the Electoral Reform Society, so either way the reform movement makes a buck out of this. Secondly, if you have a vote, Vote Ewok. You know it makes sense.

Racist or clown?

Just a bit of housekeeping from my appearance on 18DS’ Vox Politix on Monday (it’s still available to view at the moment), to follow up on an issue that has been bugging me.

Caroline Hunt took great exception to my reference to the various attacks that have been made about Boris Johnson’s views on black people in recent weeks. To be clear, I didn’t call him a racist; that isn’t an argument I’m particularly interested in having (I note however, that it was an argument the Tories were jonesing for a few months ago). What I was trying to say before we were moved on is that public figures are accountable for the words they say and write and that it is thus entirely justifiable for political opponents to attempt to make capital out of them.

Johnson’s feeble jokes about ‘watermelon smiles’ and ‘picaninnies’ may not count as explicit racism, but they are appallingly insensitive. It simply isn’t good enough for him to say that he didn’t expect to be taken seriously when he wrote that article while simultaneously demanding that we take him seriously now. There are far more extreme examples of politicians’ utterances being used against them. Jody Dunn springs to mind, and compared to her experience Johnson has got off lightly.

His views on the Macpherson report are more interesting. After 8 years, it is time we cast over this report with a critical eye. Its definition of ‘institutionalised racism’ and that effectively racism in the eye of the beholder are problematic for any liberal. It is hard to see what progress we have made in race relations over the past decade. But, to be brutally honest, it is a third rail issue and one that it will be difficult to tackle without being portrayed in the most unflattering terms. Frankly, if Johnson was serious about wanting to do something about them now, having a back-catalogue of less-than-nuanced articles behind him is not going to help.

The question is, will Johnson make anything of this issue in his campaign, or is he going to shy away from it completely? It will be a tough call. His rivals will pore over his every word and be eager to make hay if they can. If he tries to sweep it to one side on the other hand, then it will look as if he lacks the courage of his convictions; not a good thing to be labeled in a campaign if you are also a dilettante who has cultivated such a comical public image. And there’s a serious democratic issue too: if he runs away from the issue, we can have no idea what he would do if he got elected.

Ultimately, Johnson’s problem is not that he is a ‘colourful’ character. British politics could do with more mavericks and he is surely that. His problem is that he lacks authenticity. His stock in trade is vagueness and it will be tough for him to present himself as anything other than even more vague every time someone trots out another potentially embarrassing thing he wrote or said in the past. He’s also the top hatted toff to end all top hatted toffs. For a certain demographic that is screamingly hilarious and endearing. The same demographic thought that voting for Robert Kilroy-Silk would be a good idea and look how that turned out. Even if he won, he’s in danger of making the Conservatives look less like a serious party of government than they were before the election.

More BBC nonsense

Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott are having a pop at Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson:

Ms Butler highlighted a 2002 article in which Mr Johnson referred to the Queen being greeted in Commonwealth countries by “flag-waving piccaninnies”.

She claimed he also said that he expected, during a mooted visit by Tony Blair to the Congo, that “the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief”.

Hang on a minute; this isn’t a “claim” – it is a matter of public record. Why do the BBC persist in this policy of interpreting balance to mean that even established facts have to be treated as hearsay when they come out of the mouths of politicians?